Fit for the Field

It’s important to think of field fitness differently – as injury-proofing your body, rather than building “bedroom muscles”.

I recently had my personal trainer/roommate/brother, Jonathan Sims, join me on the Go Dig a Hole podcast (Episode 20), to talk about fitness for archaeologists. Fitness is a complex issue for everyone, but particularly so for archaeologists because the physical task of performing archaeology can take a toll on the body in the long and short terms. If you’ve been in the field long enough, you’ve likely felt it yourself, but one of the first things a seasoned archaeologist will tell you – aside from the usual one-upmanship of horror stories – is how wrecked their body is. This highlights the need to think about fitness, but also the need to think differently about fitness.

In the earlier part of the podcast mentioned above, Jonathan Sims discusses fitness as a social construct – that notions of what fitness looks like, or performs like, or how to get there are socially determined, and are most often fetishized commodities in a rapidly expanding fad market. Fitness as a social construct lends itself toward ableist perceptions of mobility, and often-toxic performances of body image and gender norms. Fitness, as Sims defines it, is simply the ability to move without injuring oneself. He points out that many of the exercises prescribed by trainers (or self-imposed by people exercising on their own) do long-term damage to joints, and that the fundamental building block of fitness should be control of the spinal column. This means that ab crunches, sit-ups, and Russian twists are out – good news, right?

Archaeology is a physically demanding field, whether you’re in the field, lab, or office. As we discuss in the podcast, sitting at a desk takes a toll on the body as well. Ultimately we explore the question, should you workout outside of work if your job is physically strenuous? The short answer is yes. My brother explains this analogy:

Think of your job as game day. Now, I’m not comparing archaeologists to pro athletes, but the idea of focused performance on the job is your goal. If you practice outside of that, then you can perform on game day without injuring yourself, and be able to perform in game days after that as well.

Finding a starting point for pursuing fitness for archaeology can be difficult and intimidating. If your fitness goal is functional movement to prevent injury (which it should be, as Sims argues in the podcast), then a trainer who can perform a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is your first step. If you are “symptomatic”, meaning you feel pain during or after movement, then a Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) is needed. The two assessment procedures are quite similar, but the difference between FMS and SFMA is that SFMA is more of a clinical evaluation in the presence of pain. FMS will detect movement patterns that indicate instabilities. It is important that a trainer be able to perform these assessments on their clients, because it typically follows a philosophy of fitness as functional movement rather than an aesthetic. Selecting a trainer that can perform FMS or SFMA also thins the herd beyond other professional certifications (e.g. ACSM, NASM, ACE, etc.), that Sims argues aren’t as useful in determining the abilities or philosophies of a trainer. Why do you need to hire a personal trainer to pursue fitness? As scientists, archaeologists should appreciate the value of specialized professionals with research-based knowledge. Archaeologists face similar pressures when the public devalues the specialized knowledge of professionals in the field. It is damaging to doubt the skills of a professional, and unless you’ve gone through the training and practice to be a personal trainer – one who can do FMS or SFMA – then you need professional help. You don’t always need it though. As Sims explains, it typically takes about two sessions a week for a couple months to gain the knowledge to pursue fitness through functional movement, or to build movement patterns without pain symptoms. However, as fitness goals change (e.g. building muscle mass, increasing speed or endurance, etc.), a “check-in” should be considered.

Recommended Reading:

Way, Lindsey.
2009. “Injury-Proofing Your Body with the Functional Movement Screen”, Breaking Muscle




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